Tired, Literally

Yesterday I got up, turned on the radio, and there was Johnny Cash singing his abysmal version of an abysmally accurate song about addiction, Trent Resnor’s (Nine Inch Nails’) “Hurt.”

“This can’t be good,” I thought, and tried to imagine I hadn’t heard it, but I did hear it. I tried to escape to the supermarket in Alamosa but not long after I left home, Bella let me know she had a very low tire. I tried each of the three air stations in town and they were all broken. I got home and called AAA. They sent someone who arrived about 1 1/2 hours later.

He put on the spare which is full sized but not “real.” “Your car’s still going to tell you that you have a flat tire. The sensor is in that one,” he pointed at the tire in the back of my car.

“How far can I drive on that?” I asked him. He was a young guy. Really young.

“I know of people who’ve driven 50 miles on one of those. But…”

He didn’t want to say. I said, “OK, if your grandma was planning to drive to Alamosa (18 miles away) for groceries today and then back to Alamosa to get the car serviced tomorrow. What would you tell her?”

“I’d tell her to make one trip.”

So… I called the supermarket and told them I wasn’t going to make it and set it up for today.

I think the tire has a nail in it. Apparently, also, you don’t just replace ONE tire on a Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. You replace 4 of them. I hope they can fix it.

I wonder where I would escape if I could? All the escapes that sound good to me would involve time travel. Not because the past was better than the present, but because the past was better than the present. I just wonder whether the anxiety that has emerged in recent months is ever going to go away, from me, from the general atmosphere. I woke up at 1 worried I wouldn’t get up at 7. Life feels like one of those carnival rides I hate that make you go upside-down. Or that 60s Broadway show, Stop the World I Want to Get Off. What is JUST a flat tire is, now, a minor existential crisis.

Oh well…

No Bluffing

When I was 14, we moved back to Colorado from Nebraska where, for six years, my dad had been working for the Department of Defense. This time we moved to Colorado Springs. My mom had found a house to rent until they could build a wheel-chair accessible house to make life easier for my dad (and mom). Both the house she rented and the one they bought were near a geological formation we called The Bluffs. The Bluffs were on the north end of town. Beyond that? Ranches and farms; that was about it.

They were our playground. There were a few trails — none of them marked — and a road that wound up to an overlook from which you could see (can still see) the main sights — The Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. We could head out the door, through a couple suburban blocks, and we were there. There was (and is) a small stable and a couple of times we rode through The Bluffs. When I was in high school, on a Sunday afternoon ramble with my friend, I found My Tree. It’s still there, but there’s a road to it…

The Bluffs gave us kids a way to get off by ourselves.

Colorado Springs has grown exponentially and horrifically (IMO) and The Bluffs are encircled by developments and malls. It’s often crowded and it’s not so easy to get away by yourself. Everyone refers to it by its legit name, Palmer Park. Everyone, that is, except the “old timers.” I don’t know how I got to be an “old-timer” but here we are. A rose by any other name, etc. The Bluffs endure (and don’t care what they’re called) and they’re still a lovely place for a ramble.

Featured photo: Me, my tree, and Lois’ dogs, Shoe, Coda and Satchmo

Rambling, Uninspired, Somewhat Tedious, Quotidian Update 21.73.vi.a

I’m amenable to my dogs and what they do. They’re dogs not short furry humans with poor language skills, and I’ve had a lot of them, but this morning Teddy showed up with something sticky and gross colored — yet odorless — on the cascade of white fur under his chin. I had to cut it out with scissors. Gum? Teddy sat quietly while I tried to wash it off (how I learned it was sticky), and he sat quietly while I cut it out. In the interlude between the time I let them out and get up for REAL myself, I imagine a lot of adventures out there in the yard.

But they tell no tales.

Now we get to worry about finding a booster shot for Covid. I was out and about more this past weekend than I’ve been since I was in Colorado Springs a couple months ago when I hurt my shoulder. I don’t even know how to feel about it. I feel pretty fatigued this morning, but I’m hoping it’s just a hangover from having done a lot more socializing than I am used to (any more). Time will tell. I’m pretty sure we’re all going to get it eventually, it being both a booster shot and Covid. Anyway, the number of known active cases here in the San Luis Valley is very high (for us). Oh well…

The way I’ve lived with it so far has possibly not been the most practical way. I just avoid humans, and, when I’m with humans I don’t know, I stay outside for the most part. This means I haven’t gotten into the mask-wearing habit. I usually remember to have one with me, but I’m bad at remembering to put it on. I like it when a business posts a sign, “Masks must be worn” or something like that. OH well. A friend has gotten Covid. She’s vaccinated and says it’s like a cold. Her husband — who uses oxygen — is doing OK, too. I guess that’s the point.

Three years ago (thanks FB memories) I grew ONE Scarlet Emperor Bean. His name was Cao Xue Qin, the author of Red Chamber Dream (Hong Lou Meng). From him, came all the others. I think there was one before him but I have no photos. Cao Xue Qin was supported by a lilac stem. It worked pretty well, too.


Blue Sky Day

Yesterday my friend Lois and I headed up CO 149 toward Creede with the idea of going to North Clear Creek Falls. We didn’t make it all the way since I saw Bella was running low on gas and there were no gas stations for, well, the duration. We turned around but maybe the goal of the journey had been met. Mountain views, turning aspen, and conversation. On the way back down we saw a small group of bighorn sheep.

I had a place in mind for lunch, but when we got there, we learned from the family who runs the place — Cottonwood Cove — they weren’t serving food. We had a little chat about the past two years and their business. They did have ice cream so we had ice cream for lunch. Not the worst lunch I’ve ever had. Lois did a little shopping. They told me about a little girl’s grave they had found on their property — a grave marker from 1880. “I wonder what she died of?” said one of kids.

“Could be anything back then,” I said. “Measles, diphtheria, it wasn’t easy to survive back then.” I know, I know, I’m a ray of sunshine everywhere I go.

Once back in Del Norte, at the gas station, Bella’s needs were satisfied, and I decided to take Lois to the Middle Frisco Creek Trail. I figured we’d looked AT aspen, we should get together WITH some aspen. It’s a beautiful trail and it was a nice — if short — hike. The trail itself goes 6 miles to a glacial lake. We started WAY too late to do that, and if I WERE to do it, it would be a 12 hour RT. I’m able, but I’m slow. It seems that the days of covering 12 miles in 3 hours are somewhere in the not-all-that-dim-but-still-distant past.

This trail is basically behind the mountains I see to the west of The Refuge. We ran into an exhausted hunter who — with his buddies — had gotten an elk, three Mennonite girls in dresses and hiking boots hiking with their Australian shepherd, and a couple of young earnest people with two happy dogs.

The featured photo is by Lois Maxwell, a pretty pond on our way up to the waterfall.

How Do You Know When it’s Fall?

My friend Lois is here for a visit, and the dogs and I couldn’t be happier. Last evening we took a stroll out at the Refuge and then ate at Ninos, one of the local Mexican restaurants, the one in which I — seven years ago — tasted the green chili I had missed in California. I haven’t been out at night in about a million years so coming home to real “country dark” was kind of surprising and also informative. I learned that the batteries are dead in two of my outside motion sensor lamps.

The beans survived three freezing nights in a row with nothing but frost burn on some of the more exposed leaves. This is slightly strange because the beans are not “keeping each other warm.” At this point I think they could be doing anything.

Yesterday Lois and I were talking about the arrival of fall, like when does it really begin? This was the result of a (pretty funny) debate she was having on FB with a family member who is polemical and punctilious to a fault. As we drove out to the Refuge I said, “I know it’s fall when the cows come home.” It wasn’t just the idiom, either. At the beginning of fall the cows really DO come home from grazing in BLM lands, spending their summers in the mountains. They are excellent at keeping low-level forest growth from getting too thick or too high. Awesome sub-contractors for this task. The sheep come home, too, and some of the gates at the Refuge are open to let the hoofed animals cross from farm to pasture. South of the Refuge, a few days ago, I discovered a small herd of goats protected by a vigilant llama.

“Second verse same as the first…”

It seems that the bill the Democrats have passed in the House (and passed on to the Senate) to keep the country going yet another little while has something in it saying 18 year old women have to register with the Selective Service. Right wing loud mouths are spinning this so it says that women are about to be drafted into the military. Never mind that — at this point in our history (thank goodness) — NO ONE is being drafted into the military.

I remember big arguments around the family dining table about women serving in the military at all. It was a noisy discussion between WW II veterans and my Aunt Martha who’d gone to Washington DC in 1941 to work for the OSS which, in time, evolved into the CIA. She had a gesture, she would stand up, raise her arm in the air, raise her index finger and say, “Anything a man can do a woman can do.” These embattled dinners that stopped short of mashed potato fights happened during the Vietnam War.

My two uncles who saw action in the Pacific said, “I don’t want any woman to see what I’ve seen.”

“You think women can’t take it?” my aunt would counter.

Right wing female traditionalists are up in, uh, rolling pins over this with their “A woman’s place is in the home” hoo-haw. “Feminism has ruined this country!”

Two thoughts in my mind. “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have war any more and no one ever needed to put on a uniform and go kill people and risk dying?” And “Maybe they need to remake Mr. Mom.”

But what I’m (mildly, imperceptibly) upset about is that after ALL THIS TIME, in other words for MOST OF MY LIFE, here we are on September 23, 2021, another day, and this stuff is still being hashed out.


Notecards

We’ve had freezing night temps for two nights so far and tonight will follow. It’s easy to cover the tomatoes and impossible to cover the Scarlet Emperor Beans. I’ve collected a good handful of seeds, so they have accomplished their big task over the summer. Monday night they got by with a little frost burn. I’ll know later today how it went for them last night. There’s no way around the fact that life is lethal.

Yesterday when I was out with Teddy I was thinking of one of Shakespeare’s LEAST redemptive sonnets.

Sonnet 64:

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

It’s a beautiful poem, evocative and moving. It’s also legitimate. We all lose what we love and in our turn, become something someone else loses. It’s harsh, very very harsh, but there it is. Still, there’s another side… I don’t think Shakespeare wrote any humorous sonnets about death, but if he HAD maybe this would have inspired him?

A week or so ago I got a phone call from an old man in Seattle. The message said, “I’m an old Del Norter. I’m living in Seattle now, and I’m too old to move back, and I’d like to buy some of your notecards. I found your business card and decided to give you a call.” Months ago, I heard from Louise at the Rio Grande County Museum in fun-filled, scenic Del Norte, Colorado of a friend of hers in Seattle who wanted a LOT of notecards, but just as we were going to figure that out, her life went seriously sideways.

I HATE talking to people on the phone unless I know them. From the voicemail, I could hear a lot of TIME in the man’s voice. I emailed Louise and asked if that was the man she’d told me about. He was. Louise sent me his address and other contact information. I immediately packed up the notecards I had on hand, some postcards I’d had made of paintings of San Luis Valley locations and put them in the package, too, with a note explaining that. I really didn’t want him to pay for anything, but then thought that might hurt his feelings, so I charged him my special local price for the cards. I sent them priority mail. I wanted the package to get there fast. Since I wasn’t calling him back, that only seemed right.

By return mail (sent the day he received the package!) I got a little note with a check enclosed. The note — which had been written with a fountain pen! — made me laugh so hard that Bear thought something was wrong with me.

All I can say is “Take that, Shakespeare.”

Quotidian Update Update

It’s been a weird few days but after a wonderful walk with Teddy, and all the helpful comments on the post I put up this morning, I realized there’s nothing I can do about “those people.” I don’t even have to understand them. And, while I’m not a praying person in the usual sense, this is the time for it. Someone or something with more influence than I will ever have is going to have to bring home the point to “those people.” It’s not my job. Anger and bewilderment over them is just a waste of my life.

On our walk today, Teddy had a great time with many splendid smells and I enjoyed the comparatively cool breeze. The same three cranes (I’m pretty sure) I’ve been seeing flew over us. Later on, I watched a young bald eagle carry out a successful hunt. Lots of raptors right now as they’re migrating south.

Teddy would like everyone to know he had a great time.

“That was great, Martha.”
“I think so too, little guy.”

The featured photo is one of the larger ponds. The cattails right now are so pretty. This is looking southwest.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

The first Chinese holiday I experienced was Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. It means a lot to me every time it rolls around. Last year I took a walk out in the fields to watch the full moon rise. I don’t know what I will do today. Something in me has changed and I find myself resisting everything that’s scripted, organized, seasonal, prescribed. Events in our world have made me skeptical of our traditions and customs, and I wonder how much of life we live by rote so that when an immense change falls into our world we are unable to respond. I don’t know. Probably a bogus theory, but part of me says, “I’m doubtful about all your traditions and rituals. We have to figure this out.”

But in all that is nature and nature — with some hiccups — is a parade of change. Here where there are four seasons, there’s a clock behind it yet…

The clock of fall arrives today/tomorrow and freezing is forecast. I’ve covered the tomatoes and had a long talk with my now 12+ foot tall beans as well as taking in the dried pods filled with next year’s beans. I also saw, to my surprise, new growth, small leaves coming out in several spots. This hasn’t happened in a while, but now I understand that with some pods ripened, my beans are ready to put out more.

All their energy has gone into this for the past six weeks:

My beans are not Chinese. They originated in the mountains of Mexico and Central America. Because “Scarlet Emperor” beans sounded so very Chinese that my first beans — four years ago? were named for Chinese emperors. After that? Chinese writers — Cao Xue Xin and Li Bai. The next year — last year — I named them all for Tang Dynasty Chinese Poets. They were a huge help during the lockdown and it was wonderful letting them “speak” through “their poetry” on my blog. As beans, they were amazing and brave, surviving an early snowstorm (with my help). This year I planted their offspring. Along with the poets, there are a couple of fiction writers. Lao She (who killed himself during the Cultural Revolution) succumbed partly to frost, down to the root in June, but recovered, to my total amazement. He was the first to produce ripe seeds for next year. Pearl Buck has been the most prolific and she was one of two beans I was able to successfully cover from spring frost in June. The rest? Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho suffered some frost damage or were replaced by beans I stuck into the ground have all done well. Wang Wei went out as a 3 inch plant and was easily covered when necessary. He has all done very very well. Today he gave me three pods. There are two beans who sprouted in the garden from seeds that I haven’t named.

So, with these lovely and inspiring beings out there acting with perfect faith in the future, I wish everyone a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the festival of remembering distant friends, and since the past year and half have increased the distance between us, it could be everyone. Here is my celebratory post. I hope you enjoy it.


Quiet Night Thoughts
Li Bai, Tang Dynasty (1300 years ago…)

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
举头望明月
低头思故乡

Moonlight before my bed
Like frost on the ground.
Lifting my head, I see the moon,
Lowering my head, I miss my home.

***

The canals between the rows of cabbages reflect the full moon. I ride my “Wu Yang,” a locally made “Five Rams” bike. Flash, flash, flash—the moon, the dark, the moon, the dark, the moon shines from the still water. Beside me dark lorries roll, their headlights dimmed. The bicycle has the right of way. Mist sifts across the road between the white-painted trunks of eucalyptus trees. The moon in south China is not the moon anywhere else. Even poets have said so.

“Teacher, why are you smiling?”

“Because I’m here. I’m teaching and I’m in China.”

“You’re smiling because you are here? Or do you laugh at our poor English?”

I am stunned. “You speak English well.”

“No, no we don’t. We know our English is very poor.”

“No, truly, it’s very good.”

“You are being kind. Our English is poor.”

I do not yet know about the trap of Chinese humility.

“Don’t you miss your home?”

I think momentarily of the Rocky Mountains and a few friends, but no. Ever since reading Richard Halliburton’s travel adventure books from my mother’s library I have wanted to go on “the royal road to romance.” That my first road led to a Chinese university was a stroke of good luck I never could have imagined. I smile constantly and this makes my students suspicious.

“I’m happy. I love China. I love to teach.”

“How can you love China and love America?”

What is patriotism? My own country could not possibly give me THIS opportunity. I am my own world.

“I love them both.”

“And us?”

I look behind me at the large character poster above the chalkboard. “Noble Spirit, Proud Beauty,” it says in English.

***

“The Moon Festival is the festival of distant family and friends,” I am told by one of my graduate students. “The Chinese eat round things because they look like the moon. The children carry moon-shaped lanterns. We recite poetry and think of people far away. We know our relatives and friends at home are doing the same, so though we are far away from each other, we look at the same moon. You will love it.” 

Outside the door to my apartment I find an ornately decorated box. Inside are mooncakes, a gift from my students. They are filled with red bean paste with a perfect round egg yolk in the center. The moon.

***

Just a week later I take the train to Hong Kong to meet up with two friends from Colorado, one a wealthy old man I am fond of; the other is my former boss who is traveling with him. My old friend was born in China, near Tianjin. His father was a missionary for the YMCA. His family left China during the Japanese invasion. The old man sends me out to find some cotton undershirts for him and a cane. He has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and walking is increasingly difficult. On my way back to the ship, I stop in a bakery and buy mooncakes. When I hand him the brightly printed shopping bag with its picture of the Moon Goddess, Chang O, his eyes glow with pleasure. “Oh my, oh, Martha! Mooncakes! I have not had these since I was a child.” Time and memory distill in his blue eyes and slide down his channeled cheeks. His hand reaches for mine.

***

There is no way for me to go back. Even the boy who carried my heavy trunk up three flights of stairs to my apartment is now a man in his sixties who writes me from Toronto telling me how Qi-Gong helps him with his aches and pains. I remember his stories of the Cultural Revolution when he was sent north to work in a machine shop in Luoyang. He spent ten years in mind-numbing drudgery staying up late to learn English from the Voice of America. His ancestry was mixed, his mother bourgeois, his father a poor peasant, a Party member. When the Gang of Four was overthrown, he was too old for college, so he worked as an interpreter, assistant, and spy for the Wai-Shi Ban, Foreigner’s Office, at my university. I helped him come to the U.S. to study and he got a B.A. from NYU. 

“Dear Sister,” he writes in an email. “You are a better Chinese than me. I forgot Mid-Autumn Festival! Thank you for your good wishes!”

***

Time and space are not convergent only at the outer edge of the universe; they converge everywhere, every moment. I search the Internet looking for cheap tickets to China. I imagine going back when I retire, but with perfect certainty I know there is no way. 

China is a bus on which I am riding that has stopped for no reason on Chong-Shan Wu Lu (5 Sun Yat-Sen Road) in downtown Guangzhou on a late spring afternoon. Through the window I see a public telephone. It is an old black phone on a wooden desk in front of a building. A Chinese man in glasses and a white shirt sits behind the desk taking tickets from people waiting for their turn to make a call to someone far away. In the shadows, I notice a tall, dignified, white-haired, blue-eyed, white man in a blue silk padded coat. He is leaning against a building as all the raging race of China’s modernization passes in front of him. We make eye contact for a fraction of a second before he abruptly turns and goes inside. That is China; that man, that blue coat, that furtive moment, and now it is something else.

*Originally published in Business Communication Quarterly Volume: 70 issue,188-191 June 1, 2007. Now included in As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder.

My Melancholy Interlude

“Martha has a poetic temperament,” said my AP English teacher. “She’s melancholy.”

Possibly I could have felt special, but I only felt bewildered. “Melancholy” is a strange word describing something that’s a little difficult to pin down. At this point I think I was more likely to have been sad than melancholy. My dad was in very bad shape from MS. My brother had run away from home and was dropping copious amounts of acid and my mom was a hysterical bitch. I needed a lot of things at seventeen and those needs were (truly) not all that important in the family ambiance.

Now I know that people look at each other through the lens of their own lives and beliefs and certain pragmatic ideas of “normal” or “expected.” I guess if I wandered into AP English with my droopy left eye, tired and disengaged, it would look like melancholy when it was just my face, my part-time job and my family. I did like hearing that I had a poetic temperament, though. At the time, I wanted to be a poet.

I’m looking at my coffee and trying to decide if I want to go further a few decades and write about the REAL deal, a major depressive crisis, melancholy taken to the highest (ha ha) point. When that hit me in 1994, I thought of Mrs. Zinn, again. Had she been right?

A lot of good stuff has been written about what is now termed a “mood disorder.” I even wrote some stuff about it on this blog over the 8 years I’ve been doing this. This is my best post on the subject, “There but for the Grace of God…” Like a lot of other things in life, it’s an experience from which a person can learn a lot if they survive it, sort of like a shipwreck, you know, something you can tell your grandkids about, only people are a lot more public about their shipwrecks than about their mental “breakdowns.”

“Grandma! Did you REALLY survive the Titanic?”

“Yes, Jared, I did.”

“Tell me about it!”

Never, “Gradma, did you REALLY survive your major depressive crisis?”

“Yes, Jared, I did.”

“Uhh…”

See what I mean?